What Old Gear Do You Swear By (or at)?

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 08:19AM - Comments: (7)

Ralph Naranjo
Ralph Naranjo

A Nilsson windlass gets a paint makeover.

Often when undertaking a major refit, we have to decide whether to try to repair an expensive piece of tired or broken equipment, or to commit it to the junkyard and buy a replacement.

If your budget is limited, making the wrong choice can quickly deplete the cruising kitty, or result in a problem you thought you’d solved to reappear months later. No one wants to waste time fixing gear that should have been replaced, or toss money at gear that should not have been replaced.

Anchor rode and Dacron sails are obvious candidates for replacement. But what about jib furlers, windlasses, and winches? Built of long-lasting metal components, these seemingly rugged mechanical devices should last forever with regular service and replacement of worn parts like bearings and pawls. In these cases, repair seems the obvious choice, especially when a new replacement is so expensive. What’s less obvious, however, is that there’s a lot of “salvageable” mechanical equipment on boats today that simply isn’t worth saving.

There is another option. You can often find a less-expensive substitute on the used-gear market. In many cases, the equipment that is just as good as new gear, if not better than new. The trick is separating the gems from the junk.

Ralph Naranjo
Ralph Naranjo

A rusted out Simpson Lawrence windlass might not be worth saving.

A poster child for this sort of refit quandary is the old Simpson Lawrence manual windlass, a British-engineered oddity that has long been a source of cruising sailor ire. Commonly found on cruising boats made during the 1980s, these windlasses use a troublesome chain drive rather than a gear drive. This, along with the dissimilar metals used in its various components (cast-steel gypsy, aluminum case, etc.) make these windlasses a poor candidate for rebuilding.

Before the owner of a rusted-out Simpson Lawrence starts fretting over the money he’ll spend on a new manual or electric windlass, he should consider purchasing a used windlass of a better, more durable design.

As more and more older fiberglass boats reach the end of their lifespan, the well-made mechanical equipment found on these boats is making its way into used gear chandleries. Our February 2011 guide to used-gear chandleries profiled a number of retailers stocked with perfectly good or repairable equipment waiting for a second life.

In the case of the deteriorated Simpson Lawrence windlass, we would recommend instead looking for a used, manual Nilsson windlass; Nilssons were first introduced in the 1960s. While Nilsson has been out of business in the U.S. for a while, the company’s used windlasses are a good find, and parts for some of its most popular models are still available. Check out secondhand chandleries, nautical flea markets, and eBay. A little tender loving care and a good check of the windlass’ bearings, gears, seals, and housing can turn a derelict piece of hardware into a "like new" foredeck appendage.

Often, all the windlass needs is a new finish. When painting cast-aluminum housings like the Nilsson’s, prep is especially important because they love to oxidize, particularly under a glossy finish coat. The key to success lies in the abrasive removal of all old paint, primer, and oxidation. Next comes a solvent wipe down, followed up with a single, very thin coat of etching primer, such as Interlux’s acid etch primer 353/354. As soon as the surface dries, overcoat with Interlux 404/414 barrier coat, scuff sand, and apply two or more coats of a one- or two-part urethane topcoat such as Interlux Perfection. Spray application offers the best results, but carefully follow all safety precautions.

Of course, used gear often ends up at the flea market for a reason, and a novice buyer can easily throw away good money on used stuff, as I once did. (Some of the secondhand-gear chandleries we profiled had strict return policies.) Our article on used gear chandleries offers a general guide to secondhand equipment buying (we’re big fans of silicon bronze), but buying used requires doing some homework. For mechanical equipment, the availability of replacement parts is a key consideration. Fortunately, some of the most beloved marine products continue to have parts support, even when the product itself is no longer being manufactured.

If you have used gear success stories to tell, I’d love to add them to a list we can share with other sailors. You can either comment below, or send an email to practicalsailor@belvoirpubs.com.

Comments (7)

Furlers are one of my favorites. Too often they are thrown away when all they need is new bearings and a little love. For example, My Hood Seafurls came with a mix of plastic and stainless balls. After 11 years, the plastic balls wore down, the steel balls rode over them, and the whole business disintegrated in a day, locking up tight.

I replaced the balls with all stainless, replaced the races, and greased them with our PS favorite waterproof grease, "Green Grease" by Omni Lubricants. I added a top seal and slinger to keep the rain out. Smooth as glass for another 8 years, after which I sold the boat. I bet the stainless bearings will go 20 years, easily, if greased at the 10-year mark.

Posted by: Drew Frye | February 18, 2019 6:47 PM    Report this comment

I swear by my TillerMaster auto-tiller that came with my used 30-ft boat 25 years ago. The TillerMaster still works great. I've greased it and replaced its corroded power connector, but that's it. I bought a spare on Craigslist for $20 though I don't think I'll ever need it.

Posted by: Jack Schmidt | February 18, 2019 4:15 PM    Report this comment

When deciding to repair or replace, technological updates should be considered. While a 30 or 40 year old winch can be repaired, it still will not have a self-tailer. Similarly, most electronic gear should be replaced with new, or very much newer, gear. On the other hand, pump design has not changed much and rebuilding (by the owner) makes sense. Sometimes repair parts are unreasonably expensive. The fix/replace decision will be different for each item.

We pay a lot for marine gear and in return we often get exceptional customer service. It doesn't hurt to ask (not demand) the manufacturer for help. For example, ACR replaced a ten year old safety strobe that had corroded with a new one at no cost.

Fatty Goodlander, a most amusing author, swears by the dumpster chandlery. It's hard to beat free, but your item may be out of stock.

Posted by: Boston Barry | February 15, 2019 8:30 AM    Report this comment

I just bought a used Tartan 3100 and the dry Richie SP5C compass was one of the firsr items to be dealt with. I deliberated DIY Repair, buying new or sending it in for reconditioning. I chose the latter. I was blown away when the unit was returned to me! The cost was more than reasonable and the product looked like a new one. Thank you Richie navigation! Very impressive!

Posted by: VIZ | February 14, 2019 10:30 PM    Report this comment

Some old winches are worth more than others. Those of us who have taken apart a lot of primary and secondary winches are surprised by the different number of bearings in their construction. The Barient 28, for example, had eight roller bearings and is a masterpiece of design and efficiency. Buying a pair at a flea market, or hanging onto the ones you own, is a very good idea. This is true of larger Barient winches, but the smaller ones (25 and 26) had far fewer bearings and were (my opinion) intended for OEM use on production boats.
The old 8" double grip Barient handle was an elegant piece of gear. No bearings, but great efficiency when grinding in headsails in a tacking duel. Ah, the old days...

Posted by: ChuckHawley | February 14, 2019 7:17 PM    Report this comment

Rather than spend thousands on a new SSB radio and tuner I took the old SEA 2250 control head, SEA 2251 transceiver, SEA 1635 antenna tuner, plus the microphone to the Mountlake Terrace, WA office for a complete checkup and tuning while I waited. Doug Hutchins spent a few hours testing it out and I left with top working unit plus a replacement microphone. The cost was very reasonable. The unit was used on my roundtrip to Hawaii gathering NOAA weather reports and passing daily position reports to the Pacific Seafarers Net (14.300 MHz). With each report I asked about our transmission and was told it was the best they were receiving. I'm very please with the old unit and the service I received from SEA Com Corp. They are an overlooked deal.

~ ~ _/) ~ ~ Mike

Posted by: MJH | February 14, 2019 4:57 PM    Report this comment

Some marinas have begun "freecycle" projects, where a bin year the trash dumpster is dedicated to usable cast-offs. Often these items could go to the consignment store, but it's distant and plain not worth the fooling for many items. What have I found?

* More good line than I will ever need. Halyards from big boats, with a single bad spot in the center, often make good sheets for smaller boats.
* Floor for dingy. In this case, the tubes had been destroyed when the boat got loose in the slip, but the floor was new. Though it was 8" too long, a saw and grinder fixed that in minutes.
* Battens. A broken batten may be just right in a shorter slot.
* A beautiful wooden boathook. It's decorating my daughter's room, along with floats found along the beach and the like.

... and much more. I've left project left-overs, stuff from boats I've sold, and things I've upgraded, about as much as I've taken. A great program for any marina with a large DIY component.

Posted by: Drew Frye | July 9, 2014 1:10 PM    Report this comment

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